Relational Frame Theory - Clearly Explained - ACT Therapy Contextual Psychology

  • Understanding the methods of Contextual Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

    • The relational frames that people create are the heart and focus of change work 

    • Relational frames are the reason 2 people have entirely different interpretations of the exact same experience 

  • Relational frames produce the automatic behavior that expresses as unhealthy coping

    • i.e. Isolation from others, drinking, self-mutiliation;

      • any other automatic, unhealthy, self-defeating behavior 

  • The creation of relational frames is a uniquely human trait 

    • Relational frames are at the same time perhaps our greatest cognitive deficit 

      • They often keep people from reaching their greatest level of potential  

        • Poorly constructed relational frames are responsible for unhappiness. Period. 

  • WHAT ARE RELATIONAL FRAMES? 

    • Relational frames are the mental and often subconscious and unconscious constructs that support an idea, a belief, an experience, an interpretation or an action.

      • When you think of a tent, you think of the canvas fabric material of the tent. But it is actually the aluminum tubes that are frames supporting it, holding it up and making that fabric that you see the tent that it is. 

        • Without the frame, its just a pile of canvas. 

          • Without mental constructs -- frames -- ideas are just ideas, experiences are just what is and feelings are just feelings. 

  • What makes anger angry? 

    • It's the frame we've created for understanding anger 

      • Anger means different things for different people, depending on the relational frame they've put that anger on 

        • For some people anger means "I'm sad," for others it means "I'm hurt." For some people anger means "I must yell." For some people anger means "I'm bad, I'm worthless." Or anger means "I am right."

  • Some watches have changeable bands 

    • The watch is the same, but when the band changes, the watch also changes​

      • Same with relational frames ​

  • Realtional frames are often subconscious, arbitrary, and something that we've learned on a lifelong basis 

    • intergenerational learning 

      • Anger means the same thing to grandpa as it does to the grandson.

      • It's learning that has been passed down, even if maladaptive/unhealthy 

  • Learned patterns become beliefs. When you learn, over the course of your lifetime, that certain things mean other things, you learn that's what "normal" is  

  • ARBITRARY : A unique feature of the human mind 

    • it lets us be creative

    • it gives us ingenuity 

    • it has evolved mankind from the Stone Age 

    • Thinking outside of the box 

      • This talent seems to happen indiscriminately 

  • "We are always mentally scanning the warehouse of the subconscious mind to find the right frame to hang our present experience. This is often the content in Contextual Therapy. We do this without thinking about thinking."

    • A fish does not know that it is swimming in water, because it has always been in water. A fish does not think about water or know what being "wet" is. 

      • Like a fish swims in water, you swim in your thoughts: millions of subconscious and conscious thoughts

        • It's what we always do. And these thoughts are searching every second of our waking life for the frames to make sense out of what's going on around us.

  • [The therapist's] job is to help people unframe their thoughts, unframe their feelings and unframe their sensations. Because they're often wrong! The frames have been arbitrarily created and applied to the experience, and this creates cognitive errors. 

    • The basic task of CBT is to counter cognitive errors. 

      • How, if the client holds on to the arbitrary frame that they've hung their experience on? 

        • Even if we get confrontational about the immediate problem, the person will just hang their next experience on the same old frame

        • Change the frames; create new frames  

  • Do this activity to illustrate your ability to create arbitrary relational frames

    • Think of something—anything—some object—and identify what that is. Write it down. 

      • i.e. “Headphones” 

    • Now think of any other thing 

      • i.e. “Car” 

    • Now you have 3 questions to answer:

      • 1. How is the first object like the other one? 

        • i.e. You can listen to music with both of them 

      • 2. How is the first object better than the second? 

        • i.e. Less expensive 

      • 3. How is the first object the parent of the second? 

        • i.e. Positionally, it is used sitting in the chair the father sits in

          • Bizarre, this doesn't even make any sense. But the mind can come up with something, and rationalize it. 

    • Can anything be the parent to anything else? 

      • It’s not possible, but we can create illogical relationships to make it “make sense” 

        • This is the heart of problem-solving in many approaches to contextual therapy

  • To explore RFT further we need to understand principles of language 

    • What words mean is truly arbitrary - based on collective agreement 

      • Mom means Mom because the culture decided that’s what it would mean 

    • The meaning of words is inferred (not inherent)

    • Because of relational frames, we can identify relationships between words and meaningAnger means something or depression means something through inference 

      • The relationships are inferred through imagination, just as the answers to the questions in the above exercise 

    • We learn not just from experience and repetition, but also from the creative nature of the subconscious mind 

      • This is the foundation of “self-talk” 

      • i.e. “Adultery” “sex” “hurt” "fear” “cheater” "support” “alone” 

        • What the words mean to an individual is a function of their relational frames, and therefore words have different meanings. 

        • RFT "redefines" how we think about things 

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